The word was that this Twins lineup had a chance to be historic, and early on this season the players are proving that as they have clobbered pitchers every chance they’ve gotten.
According to baseball-reference.com, the Twins’ 36 runs scored through five games ties for the second-most in franchise history, trailing only the 1996 squad, which scored 877 runs and went 78-84 overall, started the season 3-2 and scored 39 runs in five games.
But if you look at last season, when the Twin posted historic offensive numbers, the club got off to a hot start, going 4-1 and outscoring their opponents 25-15. The team hit .265 in that stretch with 17 doubles, one triple, one home run, 22 RBI and 17 walks against 43 strikeouts.
This season the club is 4-1 and outscoring opponents 36-20. The Twins have hit .247 in that stretch with five doubles, 10 homers, 36 RBI and 15 walks against 38 strikeouts.
Manager Rocco Baldelli said after the Twins’ home opener victory against the Cardinals on Tuesday night that no matter what the situation, this team is ready to hit, because the players and coaching staff have put in a lot of work through this offseason.
“Our guys and Edgar [Varela] and Rudy [Hernandez], our hitting coaches, we have our guys with a pretty good plan when they go to the plate, it doesn’t change. Guys don’t get overanxious. Guys don’t go up there changing their plan. They know what they’re doing,” Baldelli said. “We have a group of good, quality major league hitters who are confident when they go to the plate and don’t go up there overanalyzing, changing things, things like that. It gives you a chance, always.”
The Twins’ biggest test this season is going to be their 10 games against Cleveland, which start Thursday with four weekend games at Target Field.
The Twins will get a look at some of the best pitchers in the game. They’ll face Shane Bieber on Thursday, Mike Clevinger on Friday, Carlos Carrasco on Saturday and second-year standout Aaron Civale on Sunday.
Those four pitchers are 3-0 with a 2.16 ERA and 39 strikeouts in 25 innings this season.
There’s no doubt that the American League Central will come down to the Twins’ bats vs. the Indians’ pitchers and it will be one of the best showdowns in all of baseball this season.
Both sides of the ball
This Twins club has a chance to be special, and the fact is that it isn’t just the offense clicking. The Twins left Wednesday’s night’s game against the Cardinals as the only American League club without an error this season.
Free-agent signee Homer Bailey, who picked up his first win with the Twins on Tuesday night, said what makes this club so dangerous is that it has all the components of a great roster.
“I mean that’s an understatement, with this lineup and this team in general. I feel like our lineup is very, very potent given the way that these guys play on both sides of the baseball,” Bailey said. “They really take emphasis on their defense, as well. So from my standpoint, when you have guys who try and come and play a complete game, that makes you dangerous as a team.
“Obviously, their offensive numbers speak for themselves in this park and their confidence in going up to the plate, but how well-rounded we are I think is what really gives us our strength as a team.”
Speaking of defense, the Twins had to be thrilled to have center fielder Byron Buxton back in the lineup after he missed the final 20 regular-season games last season, as well as the playoff series with the Yankees.
There’s no doubt that Buxton is going to make a huge difference this season, if he can stay healthy.
“He expects to make every play,” Baldelli said of Buxton. “He is literally one of the absolute best outfielders in the world. That’s who he is. He may be the best outfielder in the world. There is probably a very, very short conversation about who you would consider on that list.”
The biggest challenge for Baldelli and the Twins coaches is how to set the lineup every night.
Shortstop Jorge Polanco hit second in the lineup 125 times last season. He hit .295 with 22 homers, 40 doubles, 79 RBI and 107 runs scored as he was named to the All-Star squad.
Polanco is off to a hot start again, hitting .286 with a home run, four RBI and five runs scored in five games this season. This season he has hit third in the lineup four times and hit cleanup once.
When he hits third, that often means he is between slugging third baseman Josh Donaldson and DH Nelson Cruz, the American League Player of the Week last week.
Polanco said he’s open to hitting anywhere.
“I said that’s fine — anywhere they put me in the lineup, I think I just have to focus on doing my best,” Polanco said. “This is a great lineup. I think all of the guys can do the job.”
Does he think hitting in that part of the lineup, especially with Cruz’s three homers already this season, could get him some good pitches to hit?
“Yes, I think so,” he said. “I think I’m going to see better pitches, and I just have to be ready to hit with Nelson behind me.”
The simple fact is that this Twins club has a chance to be historic.
They’re going to have a tremendous series this weekend with Cleveland coming to town — one of the hottest teams in baseball and their biggest rival in the American League Central.
The reason the club was able to attract such free agents as Donaldson, Bailey and Rich Hill, who started on Wednesday night and pitched five shutout innings, is because the offense was so dominant last season as the club won 101 games.
Donaldson said that hitting in the lineup has shown him just how good this club can be.
“I did do my research on the team [in free agency], I did see the quality of hitting that we had, but to be part of the lineup, to see how dangerous it can be 1-9, you have speed in there, you have some power in there, you have guys that have the hit-tool ability to be able to spray the ball all over the yard,” Donaldson said. “I think it’s going to be challenging for pitchers to come in here and they’re going to have to really be on their game to be able to last and to go deep in the game and have success against us.”